Friday, August 17, 2012

Observations in Retail

I do my general 'stuff' shopping at Target.  My routine is to spend about 90 minutes there every other week or so. It's been like a time lapse movie of how retailers and suppliers are managing in this slow and upredictable economy. A long slide into the sparse shelving that looks like an old man's gap-toothed smile? Here are some of the things I've noticed.

First is product diversity. It is decreasing. My favorite makeup was discontinued in 2009. Other things have disapeared as well, at least locally, like the G2 mini pens. These fit in a small purse but feel like a regular pen when in use.  It was the the second thing I noticed missing. Haven't seen one in the usual places in this town for almost 3 years.  Other nice and nice-to-haves are disappearing.

Now that I have more free time, I look at not just the 'sale' and 'incentive' items, but also the ones with the small red CLEARANCE tags.  In the last month, our Target has phased out a number of product, like an Italian espresso that they carried for years. Less inventory is a major cost savings measure, especially when there are other similar items --  Starbucks and the store brand Coffee seem to have won the coffee battle.

Many of the items that consume disposable income are on clearance. They will blink out soon. No more frozen crab and asparagus sliders, no more SAN-J organic soy sauce, no more Medaglia D'oro espresso for sale. Products are shelved farther apart and some are stocked only one or two deep. Belt-tightening comes to town.

Products are moving to less expensive, and sometimes less functional packaging.  My favorite Crest toothpaste in the stand-up dispenser is now made in Mexico and has a newly engineered tube that doesn't work worth a damn. Some of the previous, more expensive hidden components that made the paste move up in the container have been removed.  Now, once you are halfway through the product, it takes the strength of Hercules to get the remainder out.  I called P&G and complained.  The sent me free product coupons. As a consumer, I like that. As a stock owner, I don't. It's called giving away the store over a piece of bad 'value engineering.'

The staples are being incented to get people to part with their cash. Buy 2 12-roll packages of Bounty and get a $5 gift card. Same with toothpaste and laundry detergent.  I hop on these offers myself on occasion, but only when it's a product I actually use. Some of these specials seem to preceed packaging changes or 'new and improved' labels. I noticed that the old 48 ounce pine-sol is on the shelf with, and priced the same as, the 'new' more convenient 40 ounce bottles. More convenient to whom???  My 16 ounce box of Kashi Go Lean  is on 'special' for 2.99, except that it now weighs 13.1 ounces. About 2 years ago the 1 pound box of Barilla PLUS rotini pasta went up to $1.19.  Yesterday, I bought the 14.5ounce equivalent box on CLEARANCE, marked down from $3.24 to only $2.75.

I'm not getting warm fuzzies about this economy from my grocery shopping experiences these days. How about you?

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